When it comes to leafy greens, many people tend to think of the usual suspects like spinach, kale, or lettuce. However, I would like to make the case for chard – it might be a slightly lesser-known vegetable, but it’s equally as nutritious, versatile, and aesthetically so pretty, it will add a bright pop of colour to your plate!

There are essentially two types of chard: Rainbow and regular chard, also known as Swiss chard. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. Its leaves are wide, glossy, and rainbow chard in particular comes in a variety of breathtaking colours, from deep red to vibrant yellow, and even shades of pink and orange.

“Chard is a great vegetable to grow as it’s one of the crops that we can get out of season when we don’t have lots of other crops, otherwise known as the hungry gap,” explains Úna Ní Bhroin and Padraig Fahy of Beechlawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe, Galway.

“If we’re organised and get it sown early enough, in winter in polytunnels initially and then we plant them out in early spring after the frost is gone, we can harvest from mid-March to April for the first crop and then from June to October,” says Úna.

“As a grower you need a point of difference and we need to be able to offer a wider range of vegetables and chard is something that we have grown since we started 25 years ago,” Padraig continues. “It’s also great as it’s the type of vegetable that when you cut it once, it comes back again. It’s also aesthetically beautiful – they say we should eat a full diet by eating the rainbow and you obviously really do that with chard.”

Growing it

At home in your garden, you can sow chard from April to July. If you have a polytunnel, you can sow it earlier in the year. There are two options when growing chard: growing for baby leaf “cut-and-come-again” crops or growing for large plants, it just really depends on how you want to use it.

Nutritional benefits

First and foremost, chard is packed with essential nutrients that can help boost your overall health. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron. These nutrients play a vital role in supporting immune function, promoting healthy bones, and ensuring proper blood circulation. Furthermore, chard contains antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Another notable benefit of chard is its high fibre content. Adequate fibre intake is crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system. It can also help control blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol levels.

As an ingredient

One of the most significant advantages of chard is its versatility in the kitchen. Both the leaves and stalks can be consumed, and they offer different flavours and textures. The leaves are slightly bitter, similar to spinach, and can be enjoyed raw in salads or cooked in various dishes. They can be sautéed, steamed, or added to soups and stews. On the other hand, the stalks are milder in taste and often require a bit more cooking time. They can be pickled, steamed, and used as a side dish or added to stir-fries.

“Stir frying the stem is gorgeous,” recommends Úna. “It has a lovely crunch to it so cooking it al dente is best. The leaves are great in salads.”

Padraig adds, “You will often see chard leaves in salad mixes as baby leaves. It’s picked at a smaller stage.”

If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, a few ideas on how to incorporate chard into your meals would be a chard salad with crumbled feta and a citrus dressing; a chard and white bean soup; chard wraps using the leaves as the wrap; and chard crisps will definitely be a favourite if you like kale crisps. It’s also delicious simply sautéed.

Storing it

Remember to store chard properly to maintain its freshness. It can be refrigerated wrapped in a damp paper towel or stored in a plastic bag for up to five days.

Where to buy

You don’t often find chard in supermarkets, but you should be able to buy it in farmers markets and shops around the country. You can also order it online from farmers like Beechlawn Organic Farm.

Visit beechlawnorganicfarm.ie.

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